This bust-portrait sculpture depicts Adeline Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941), a British writer, considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.
Woolf was born into an affluent household in South Kensington, London, the seventh child in a blended family of eight. Her mother, Julia Stephen, celebrated as a Pre-Raphaelite artist's model, had three children from her first marriage; her father, Leslie Stephen, a notable man of letters, had one previous daughter; their marriage produced another four children, including the modernist painter Vanessa Bell. While the boys in the family were educated at university, the girls were home-schooled in English classics and Victorian literature. An important influence in her early life was the summer home the family used in St Ives, Cornwall, where she first saw the Godrevy Lighthouse, which was to become iconic in her novel To the Lighthouse (1927).
Woolf's childhood came to an abrupt end in 1895 with the death of her mother and her first mental breakdown, followed two years later by the death of her stepsister and surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth. From 1897–1901 she attended the Ladies' Department of King's College London, where she studied classics and history and came into contact with early reformers of women's higher education and the women's rights movement. Other important influences were her Cambridge-educated brothers and unfettered access to their father's vast library. She began writing professionally in 1900, encouraged by her father, whose death in 1905 was a major turning point in her life and the cause of another breakdown. Following the death, the family moved from Kensington to the more bohemian Bloomsbury, where they adopted a free-spirited lifestyle; it was there that, in conjunction with their brothers' intellectual friends, they formed the artistic and literary Bloomsbury Group. In 1912 Woolf married Leonard Woolf, and in 1917 they founded the Hogarth Press, which published much of her work. The couple rented second homes in Sussex and moved there permanently in 1940. Throughout her life, Woolf was troubled by bouts of mental illness, which included being institutionalised and attempting suicide. Her illness is considered to have been bipolar disorder, for which there was no effective intervention at the time. Eventually, in 1941, she drowned herself in a river, aged 59.
During the interwar period, Woolf was an important part of London's literary and artistic society. She published her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915, through her half-brother's publishing house, Gerald Duckworth and Company. Her best-known works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). She is also known for her essays, including A Room of One's Own (1929), in which she wrote the much-quoted dictum, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
Woolf became one of the central subjects of the 1970s movement of feminist criticism, and her works have since garnered much attention and widespread commentary for "inspiring feminism", an aspect of her writing that was unheralded earlier. Her works are widely read all over the world and have been translated into more than 50 languages. A large body of literature is dedicated to her life and work, and she has been the subject of many plays, novels, and films. Some of her writing has been considered offensive and has been criticised for a number of complex and controversial views, including anti-semitism and elitism. Woolf is commemorated today by statues, societies dedicated to her work and a building at the University of London.